Checkout O3Spaces – billed as alternative to Sharepoint

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From the Using Sharepoint with Firefox post a while back…
_ O3Spaces Workplace – About the software

About O3Spaces Workplace

O3Spaces Workplace is a Web 2.0 Document Management & Collaboration Solution for OpenOffice.org, StarOffice and MS Office users.
O3Spaces document collaboration

O3Spaces Workplace brings document management and document collaboration features to OpenOffice.org / StarOffice and Microsoft Office, including real-time version control, automated check-in/check-out and document security.

O3Spaces Workplace offers you freedom of choice. You can use the office suite of choice on your (MS Windows, Linux, Solaris or Mac OS X based) computer, and have O3Spaces Workplace offer its unrivaled user friendly Document Management and Document Collaboration solutions for (distributed) teams, workgroups & departments.

Looks pretty interesting – anyone using it?

SWeb 2.0 drinks…

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A few of us have been chatting about the long train trips / cab fares home from events that always seem to be in Central or East London, so we’ve decided that we’re going to try do something a little closer to home, for all the obvious reasons…

So, if you’re into the mixed bag that is becoming Web 2.0 in the UK, then you’re welcome to join us whether you’re from the South West or not… just remember that there are still Wombles in Wimbledon Common so bring your brollies

Would be really cool if we could get some bloggers, writers, designers, coders, accessible type people, business people, wordpress people, Ubuntu people, GTD people, backend system beasties and maybe even one or two lovely ladies along…. you never can tell ;-)

The details:
Friday the 19th May, 7pm onwards
Location is: My house for a BBQ (address forthcoming).
View the Upcoming.org post as well (http://upcoming.org/event/73637/).

My place is one minute from the station, and about 40 seconds from a butcher and a Threshers.
I’m thinking that I’ll go get good steaks from the butcher near us if you ask me to, and prepare them properly myself. All you’ll have to do it bring drinks and a snack or two.

If you’re thinking of coming, please post a comment here so that we have a rough idea of numbers – it may help us to get a special deal or something.

Thanks in advance ;-)

Can Web 2.0 play in the UK too?

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One of the reasons I’ve been quiet of late is that I’ve started a project where one of the things I’m looking at is emerging web technologies and trends in the UK (if you’re American that may read Web 2.0).

The future is bright, the future’s…
Tim O’Reilly as usual does a great job of distilling the Web 2.0 landscape into something meaningful, highlighting what the state of play is, and where things are going. You should read it if you haven’t already. Dion Hinchcliffe looks at the participatory nature of Web 2.0, concluding that “In the end, how you make it easy for your Web users to blog, podcast, media share, mash, tag, etc. doesn’t matter. But always give them rich, easy, and sharable ways to contribute their voices clearly and loudly on the Web. That’s how Web 2.0 works.” That’s funny – I was always looking for that, but it seems that now it’s becoming ubiquitous thanks to countless hours from developers around the world, working to enrich the web.

This is all underscored by an obvious “This is really cool stuff, but we’re in the service business, so how do we make money out of it?” question, which of course we’re all wondering. At the moment, it seems that there is a lot of focus on social software of sorts, which is mostly in the startup mould. So, we’re wondering whether there is anything beyond all the hype surrounding Web 2.0, that will interest clients enough to go (read: experiment) with essentially “unproven” technologies in their businesses.

In my mind, there is a big difference between the business application of Web 2.0 technologies, and how the individual uses those same technologies to do something, so we’ve been doing research specifically around the following questions:

  1. How the technologies are entering the market?
  2. What role they will play in enterprises / corporates?
  3. What the adoption rate is likely to be?
  4. Who is doing it?
  5. Which vendors are talking about it?
  6. Which vendors are offering services around these technologies?
  7. And perhaps most importantly, what technologies are likely to be winners (so it’s not just about the technology itself, but all the factors combined)?

The phenomenal growth of social software [Flikr; Newsgator / Feed Demon; Del.Icio.Us; Wikipedia; Orkut; Linkedin; Upcoming.org; WordPress.com / WordPress.org; MySpaces; Technorati; Pubsub; Bloglines; Google Maps; BBC backstage; Rollyo; Meebo; Gada.be to name a few I can remember offhand] in recent times is prompting a buying and spending spree which we’ve not seen for a while, which a lot of people are seeing as the next boom (or bust, whichever glass yours is) [Yahoo! bought Flikr and upcoming.org, Newsgator bought Netnewswire, AOL bought Weblogsinc, Verisign acquired Weblogs.com, Rupert Murdoch also made a spate of acquisitions all within a month or two a while back].

But where are the business applications / services that use the same technologies? I can think of some [Newsgator Enterprise; Basecamp / Backpack; Salesforce.com; Zimbra; Writely?; Socialtext; Sharepoint] but are there more? Am I missing something? Ryan Carson is working tirelessly to release an on-demand application aimed at businesses and individuals, which I’m really excited about – but where are the others that are doing the same thing? Is the inherent conservativeness and cynicism of the British culture holding it back, or is it just that we’re all at sea and quite far behind?

Bottoms up
So far, it seems that we’re witnessing a bottom up Web 2.0 technology adoption curve. Where web services are underscoring a mish mash of software that is changing the way we as consumers find, consume and share data. So I guess the question is, how do we drive this adoption into businesses usefully, using the same fundamentals?

Starting a startup and doing something cool with Web 2.0 is one thing (and there really is a flurry of activity going on at the moment), but we’re really looking hard into how we can take the promise of Web 2.0 to clients who know they want to fully leverage what the web is becoming, but don’t know how to do it.

Specifically, we’ve been looking at RSS, blogs, Wiki’s, podcasting, microcontent, web analytics, Sharepoint, communities and intranets; all within the corporate business environment and therefore the business applications and benefits of each. We’ve also looked at the consumer driven applications of these technologies, but since we’re in the service business, we’re looking at how to enable businesses to use these technologies, not how we can create and implement concepts ourselves.

For example, RSS, blogs, Wiki’s and podcasting could all be used as tools to accomplish the following in a B2B / B2C context:

  1. Communication and information sharing within the business (Collaboration)
  2. Interaction between customers / clients / suppliers / partners / shareholders and the business (Push)
  3. Delivery of information about the business / products / services to customers (Pull)

Trends come and go, but the writing’s always on the wall
So, so far we’ve come up with a few trends which I think are interesting but are in no way exhaustive:

  1. Growth of online communities
  2. Growth of Sharepoint as an out of the box intranet (suitable for most uses)
  3. Growth in use of web analytics to measure ROI
  4. Growth of the web as a platform for services
  5. Online consumption in the UK still very traditional and media based, innovation driven by advertising and content rather than interaction
  6. Blogging not as big as it seems to be in the US, definitely not mainstream (the British aren’t culturally big adopters of “Hey, look at what I think” technology – Tom Coates says it well here)
  7. Very few people know what RSS is – RSS has started in the mainstream with BBC RSS feeds and Google News RSS feeds, but most people still don’t know what it is or think of it as voodoo
  8. Very few people know what a podcast is
  9. Even fewer people know what a Wiki is, but some know what Wikipedia is and what it does
  10. Microcontent even less known

We all know the pros and cons of the above trends and tools quite well, but who is actually doing it for their clients? Are clients doing it for themselves? Or is the fervency of the moment making me forget that the rest of the world (or at least as far as the South Bank of the River Thames…) just doesn’t care yet?

Who’s got the minerals?
One of the things that have surfaced in our research so far is that there don’t seem to be many vendors that are visibly pushing Web 2.0 stuff to their clients in the UK at all, let alone many people talking about it. Individuals that come to mind offhand are Tom Coates, Simon Willison, Ben Metcalfe, Andy Budd, Ryan Carson and of course Cal Henderson (although technically he’s in the US now, but he’s an Englishman so we’ll count him ;-) But these guys are all individuals connected quite tightly together, part of a small network espousing Web 2.0, but within the broader scheme of things are disconnected from the mainstream – so where are the big players?

Andy Budd and the guys from Clear:left are poised to offer Web 2.0 type services to clients in the UK, but as yet they’re not quite there as they’ve just launched. They may disagree with that, so let’s hope they start some discussion here… [On that note, they’ve put together an inaugural “Web 2.0 for the UK” conference in Brighton (d.Construct) which is a great step forward. Good on them – Silicon Valley is pretty far away from London ;-)]

There are a few Microsoft vendors (Domino, Artemis, and Conchango come to mind) that are doing good work with Sharepoint (as an intranet platform), but that’s about it (that I know of). For the record, Sharepoint isn’t quite Web 2.0 yet (IMHO), but I feel it’s as close as an enterprise can get today, out of the box. Outfits just mentioned have the skills, credibility and relationships to do some awesome stuff, but from what I know most of their work is pretty corporate software / backend systems based. I can’t see their corporate clients investing in new emerging technologies when there is so much else on the priority list to be done today.

So where does that leave us?
I’m not quite sure yet – this is a work in progress, and there are loads of unanswered questions floating about, with lots more research to do!

I’d love to hear what you think?

Update: FeedLounge is also an emerging Web 2.0 app which I think has legs – it’s in Private Alpha Testing, but I’ve read good reports from various people via their feeds, and the if the screenshots are anything to go by, it’s awesome.

Which also reminds me of the screenshots I’ve seen of the new Yahoo! mail interface, which is tipped to top Gmail when it is released… looking forward to that ;-)

Sharepoint information and a possible roadmap

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I recently worked with my colleagues to put together a document for a (property sector) client explaining what MS Sharepoint is all about, and what it could be used for… If you’re interested in Sharepoint from a high level business perspective, then this might be something interesting for you.

What does Sharepoint do?

  1. Provides a platform for document management, information collaboration, and information access out of the box.
  2. Sharepoint functions well as both an intranet and an extranet, where it is possible to give external people access to shared data for particular projects. For example, the Single Sign-on that Sharepoint offers enables people to access the portal from anywhere using a web browser, enabling them to access everything that is relevant to them.
  3. Provides a platform for creating individual and “team sites” that could be project, business function, or property focused. For example, an individual in the property management team could customize their own “site” where information, tasks, events and data relevant to them is shown and made available. They would also be able to interact with others through specific “team sites” which they would be a member of. A property management “team site” may contain documents, meeting dates in a calendar, lists of contacts, discussion about issues and financial data for the property(s) in question.
  4. Enables integration with other applications and databases. Information is then displayed on the portal available to relevant (security restricted) personnel. You could for example integrate financial data, lease data, property data and employee data in a single “dashboard” screen.
  5. Specific default Sharepoint functionality includes calendars, tasks, lists, discussions, document sharing, email, content and data from a variety of plugins.

How could a business use Sharepoint?
As a portal solution, Sharepoint does literally “out of the box” what a lot of other portals do with a lot of consultation, development, customization and time. Sharepoint allows an organization to share information and collaborate at the individual, team or enterprise level, allowing people within the organization to collaborate by creating and delivering news, relevant content and events; the sharing of documents and images; creating and delegating tasks; sharing contacts; creating discussions on specific topics; and conducting surveys; but perhaps most importantly giving individuals access to all of this without the need for complex VPN setup and administration.

It also gives the enterprise the option to create a central place (as a part of the intranet or portal) to access data from different systems. For example, it is possible to integrate MRI data into an “MRI dashboard” that is accessed from within the Sharepoint portal. In this way, non-technical or accounting personnel can gain access to data relevant to them when they want it. Another easy win would be to integrate consolidated real time leasing or construction data from other back-end systems or even e-mails into a “Leasing” or “Construction” dashboard.

Strengths

  1. Is relatively easy to install and set up – a basic installation should take 2-5days.
  2. Integrates seamlessly and easily with a Windows and Active Directory network.
  3. Users can access data internally as well as externally, on secure connections which protect privacy.
  4. Access permissions are granular, so it is possible to grant / deny individuals access to particular data at the individual, team or enterprise level.
  5. Eliminates the need for user access to data through complex VPN / Firewall solutions on fileservers that have no document management capability.

Weaknesses

  1. Requires a user paradigm shift from the networked file server solution to an intranet solution.
  2. Would suggest that current files that need to be shared are added to the portal. This has a time and cost associated with it. A phased approach would probably work best here.

A recommended Phased Approach:
Phase 1, Stream 1 – Installation

  1. Ensure MS Active Directory is on a domain on the organization network.
  2. Install Sharepoint Services using:
    1. A single Windows 2003 web server
    2. And a single MS SQL database server to store the data.
  3. Time estimate: 2-5 days
  4. Costs:
    1. Implementation cost, factor of rate per day and time
    2. Windows 2003 license
    3. SQL server license
    4. Hardware cost – 2 mid to high end servers with on-site support agreements
  5. Customization: none

Phase 1, Stream 2 – User Introduction to Sharepoint

  1. The intention is to introduce Sharepoint and the benefits of using it to users across the organization:
  2. Give users an idea of what Sharepoint is capable of with a default installation, through an introductory “show and tell” workshop.
  3. Conduct another workshop after the users have had sufficient time to interact with Sharepoint (suggest 1-2 weeks), as a detailed “Q&A” session, intended for users to ask questions and get answers demonstrated interactively.

Phase 2, Stream 1 – User requirements
The intention is to understand from individual users what they require for the Sharepoint portal to be a long term success, using the following process:

  1. After further use of Sharepoint, seek to understand what users feel the portal should enable them to do by conducting a brief survey, asking users across the organization for their input and comments.
  2. Summarize the results of the survey to determine what is most important to implement first.
  3. Present the results of the survey in a format which suits the organization best.

Phase 2, Stream 2 – Data migration

  1. Assign individuals within teams, projects and business functions to allocate time to update and upload relevant data into “team sites”. Suggest allocating at least an hour per day until all data is migrated.

Phase 3 – Customisation
Make changes to the functionality and features of Sharepoint as per the results of the survey, implementing in order of need and priority. Suggested customizations could be:

  1. Remove features which are either not needed or are redundant.
  2. Customize the look and feel to match the corporate brand and identity.

There will no doubt be further phases, which may include the following:

Phase 4 – Integration with other systems
Integrate data from other systems into Sharepoint, using either web parts or custom development. For example, you could:

  1. Integrate MS Outlook data into Sharepoint for remote access
  2. Create pages that show employee HR information
  3. Create pages that show accounting data for accounting or non-accounting users
  4. Create pages that show property data for property projects
  5. Create pages that show real time sales / revenue information
  6. Create accumulation of above for senior management view of all operations.

Phase 5 – Install Sharepoint Portal server
Once there are more than a few “team sites” and the amount of data Sharepoint manages increases, it becomes difficult for everyone in the organization to know where everything is. A unified search feature which Sharepoint Portal Server offers enables users to search all Sharepoint data and information from one place (assuming that they have the security rights to view the information). We do not think that this would add much value for businesses in the near term and would therefore not recommend it at this stage.

Bill Gates gets involved with Sharepoint

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I talked yesterday about Sharepoint and the lack of credible Open Source competitors, and was going through my feeds earlier, only to find a blog post by Mark Bower about Bill Gates himself taking over the Lead PM (Project Manager) role for the Windows SharePoint Services v3 User Experience team.

Added to that, the last two days or so have seen some chatter on the blogosphere about the new Applications for Windows SharePoint Services that have been released. All 30 or so of them. I haven’t worked with any of them yet, so I may be horribly wrong, but this is a giant step in the “gain marketshare” direction.

This really does add at least two more arrows to MSFT’s Sharepoint quiver, but more importantly creates further compelling reasons for business adoption of Sharepoint. The ramifications are obvious.

Tags: Sharepoint, open source groupware

Free equivalents to MS Exchange/ MS Sharepoint

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There is a bit of interesting conversation about free and open source groupware apps going on at Whiprush.org, about Hula and Kolab. I started this little rabbit hole at a post on http://www.kdedevelopers.org, which made me think a little.

This (Hula, Kolab etc) is in all really cool because it both illustrates the increase in options for free and open source groupware applications, and a sense of user interface design which I feel will win more people over in the long term.

Having Novell behind Hula lends some credibility to the project, as does having some (what I can only imagine to be) demanding users. Kolab looks pretty interesting on the surface, but I think has a way to go before attracting a mainstream audience.

Would anyone disagree with that?

BUT, I’m not sure that this, in the bigger picture, is going to be enough, as I don’t see a competitor to MS Sharepoint on offer.

I may be woefully misinformed, and if I am I apologise, but there just isn’t. And this is why I think MSFT has an ace up it’s sleeve which is too compelling for the average business not to take up.

Knowing a little about what MS Sharepoint is capable of and also a little about MSFT’s plans for it in the coming 18 months to two years, combined with how the new MS Office will integrate with Sharepoint, office applications and Outlook/Exchange, I feel that FOSS catchup will be the order of the day.

Sharepoint right now still has a long way to go to be a mature product that users will love to use, because there are interface, integration, navigation, focus and paradigm issues that need to be worked on to get there, but it’s still the best option out there for what it does. Better still, you get Sharepoint Services on a Windows 2003 server box by default, so it’s a no brainer to use it within your business if you have a Windows network running. It looks like Sharepoint in 18 months will integrate better with Office and Outlook / Exchange than it does now, and will fix some of the issues mentioned above, so it’s certainly not going to get worse. At the same time, MSFT is really turning up the heat in the marketing of Sharepoint, so that also works in it’s favour.

I’m personally a believer in choice, competition and the best tool for the job, before anything, so I applaud the open source groupware apps talked about above. In the same breath, I’m worried because I think that Sharepoint will catapault MSFT to the next level in the average business environment, and it will be a while before there are any integrated, beautiful, useful, functional FOSS groupware apps that can compete in the marketplace as viable alternatives.

Remember that if a business wants to switch, there is a lot of pain involved upfront, so if MSFT gains a nice marketshare early there has to be an uber-compelling alternative to make businesses and IT managers make the switch. This could come in many forms, but I think cost will be the most motivating of all, and if you’ve already made the investment then why make the switch?

There is hope though.

Ubuntu is a desktop alternative that seems to be forging ahead in the right direction, with Gnome and KDE creating user interfaces and environments that are “good enough” for the average “non-hacker” desktop user;
there seems to be a tipping point developing around the paradigm of FOSS as a viable and trustworthy alernative to Windows / OS X, with Firefox leading the way as an example of what is possible;
apps like Open Office, Evolution, Kolab and Hula seem to be making compelling arguments for the Office / Outlook / Exchange combination;
with companies like IBM and Novell making public their support of FOSS;
Dell offering Linux as an OS on it’s machines;
and countries like Brasil and Germany choosing FOSS alternatives over Windows/MSFT alternatives for various reasons.


What do you think?

Caveat:
This is something that I’ve been dwelling on a lot lately, so I’m going to try and flesh this out some more over the coming months, adding links where I can. If you have any thoughts, I’d really like to hear them.

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